Spring brings more than just good weather. The end of winter's deep freeze offers homeowners the chance to save potentially thousands of dollars by conducting a home inspection and making minor repairs where needed. Winter brutalizes several major household systems, and small problems can quickly become major issues -- and expenses -- if left unchecked. Get in front of any problems while they're still small by following this spring maintenance checklist
Shingles are especially vulnerable to winter's wrath. Identifying and replacing shingles that are warped or cracked can prevent costly leaks and other damage down the line. Look closely at the flashing around chimneys and vents, especially. Necessary fixes may cost a few hundred dollars, but replacing the entire roof can easily cost $7,000 or more.
The cycle of thawing and freezing can attack and weaken exposed wood, such as the trim around windows. Using a screwdriver, poke and prod less-visible portions. Look for soft, weak, or otherwise compromised areas. If you find any trouble spots, repair them while they're still isolated. Spring rains will only make them worse. The average cost of repairing exterior wood trim is less than $600.
If chips or cracks developed on the chimney over the winter, they should be addressed right away. If you're comfortable doing it yourself, you can fix minor damage for a few hundred bucks in a single afternoon. If not, a pro can repair cracks for about $1,000. Left untreated, damage can worsen until it costs more than $3,000.
Even winterized outside faucets can develop cracks, and even tiny cracks can spawn significant leaks. When running water to check for leaks, be sure to apply back pressure. This is the only way to be certain you're not overlooking the smallest fissures. Simply install a pressure gauge before running the water. Left unchecked, outdoor leaks could lead to indoor water damage, which could cost thousands to find and repair, after factoring in costs for drywall replacement and mold remediation.
Gutters are especially vulnerable to the pressures of thawing and freezing, as well as the extra weight of snow and ice. If you're comfortable on a ladder, look for punctures, gaps, leaks, and loose brackets. Getting a pro to patch holes or tighten brackets is not expensive. Waiting until the damage is beyond repair, however, will cost. Expect to spend hundreds or even thousands to replace the gutters fully down the line.
Soil should slope downward 2 to 3 inches for every 10 feet away from the house. If the grade is insufficient, water can pool around the foundation, which can lead to major -- and expensive -- structural issues. Water could also seep into the basement, if you have one. If winter weather ate away at the grade, you may need to rent a skid-steer loader, but chances are, you can replenish the topsoil by hand. A 40-pound bag costs only about $1.75 at Home Depot.
When winter passes, take a close look at the foundation around the entire house and check for any cracks, no matter how small. Professionals can fix foundation problems relatively easily if they're caught early enough; left alone, small problems can quickly become big enough to threaten the stability of an entire home. A quick fix could cost $500; a big repair could force you to write a check with five digits on it.
Some trees will outlive not only you, but also your house. The oldest trees are massive, heavy monsters that can drop dead limbs or even tip over entirely. This is a major hazard to pedestrians, utilities, and a home. Look for dieback, a condition in which a tree or shrub begins to die from the tip of its leaves or roots backward. Also check for pockets of decay, fungal growth, or accumulating humus. The average cost for tree removal is $500 to $1,000, but that’s dwarfed by the potential consequences of inaction.
OUTDOOR AC UNITS
An outdoor air conditioner needs to be examined before it's cranked up for the season. Look for rust, as well as dents or dings from falling debris or ice. Also make sure the fan isn't damaged or loose. A tuneup can cost as little as $75. Ignore early warning signs, however, and you may be forced to spring for a replacement, which can easily runinto the thousands.
Now is the time to open, clean, and inspect the windows. Make sure the caulking and weatherstripping held up through the winter. Pay close attention to the areas where different materials meet -- a tight seal is the most powerful weapon against uninvited moisture and air. When windows are in good shape, utility bills are lower year-round.
Walk the perimeter of the house and look for signs of weakness or damage, especially under overhangs or eaves. Keep an eye out for bulges or insect damage. Good siding can last half a century, but if problems accumulate, expect to spend at least $6,600 to replace the siding on a 2,200-square-foot home -- and that's not including the hefty cost of removing and disposing of the old siding.
The attic can be a litmus test for the overall health of a home. Roof problems and leaks will be evident there first. Insect damage is likely to start in the attic as well. Since snow hangs around longer than rain, a spring snow presents a great opportunity to gauge a roof's health. Snow or not, examine the attic for dampness or rot in the wood and insulation to avoid costly interior damage.
Like potholes in the street, tiny driveway cracks can turn into big ones during winter. If you inspect the driveway every spring and fill or re-coat it to repair minor cracks, it should hold up for decades. Ignore little problems, however, and you may need to replace the driveway entirely, which is one of the more expensive projects a homeowner can face, running an average $4,300 but to nearly $10,000.
Electrical problems can be among the most dangerous and costly in the entire home. Examine the wires from the utility pole to your house. Look for obstructions from tree branches and check for exposed wiring. Pick up an outlet tester for as little as $5.50 at Home Depot, and test any outside outlets while examining them for corrosion or wear.
DECKS AND PATIOS
Like electrical and roofing issues, problems with decks and patios can be costly and dangerous. Look for warped boards, loose nails and screws, wobbly railings, and shaky steps. If you wait until a deck has to be replaced, expect to spend an average of $7,000.